Author: Consumer Choice Center

FDA Urged to Prioritize Access to Safer Alternatives

Consumer advocates spoke out against what they describe as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “alarming neglect” in facilitating access to safer nicotine alternatives for millions of adult consumers during a House Oversight hearing today.

“Despite the bipartisan mandate of the Tobacco Control Act of 2009, the FDA’s performance has fallen short of expectations, leaving countless individuals without viable options to effectively transition away from combustible cigarettes,” the Consumer Choice Center wrote in a press note.

“With over 26 million premarket tobacco product applications (PMTA) languishing in bureaucratic limbo, the FDA has only authorized fewer than 50 granted to just a handful of firms, completely disregarding the 180-day review deadline set imposed by Congress,” said Consumer Choice Center U.S. Policy Analyst Elizabeth Hicks.

“Less than 10 unique devices are available on the regulated marketplace, all of which come from industry incumbents, not to mention the growing categories of nicotine alternatives such as heaters, pouches, toothpicks, and more.

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Ranked and rated: Europe’s best and worst countries for train travel

All travellers like trains. European travellers love them. An InterRail trip is a rite of passage that stays in the memory. The Eurostar is to millennials what boat trains were for Gen X: a portal to an entire continent. European railway stations – usually prominent, often palatial – suggest history and romance. They feature in classic films, novels and music. In a climate-conscious world, railways remain the greenest alternative. They are safer and cause less stress than driving. For anyone keen to see the world, is there any better place than beside a train window?

So, with this in mind, we’ve taken the rail networks of Europe’s 15 largest (open) countries to task, rating each one on the factors that matter most. Read on to find out which ailing national networks are best avoided (and those with a highlight that’s nevertheless worth the hassle), and which are the finest options for a successful rail-based escape – whether it be your next spring city break, or a glorious weeks-long odyssey that snakes from coast to countryside. 

15. Greece

Bringing up the rear in our ranking is this snaking country of jagged coasts, islands, mountains and peninsulas, which has never quite made the railways work for its people. There are trains every few hours linking Athens and Thessaloniki (under five hours), but much of the timetable is spattered with dreaded rail replacement buses. Floods in 2023 have led to a near collapse of the network. Toy trains operate in some touristy areas, such as the Odontotos rack railway – though that was recently stopped by landslides. Athens used to luxuriate in services to Berlin and was once a branch of the Orient Express. There were trains to Turkey via Pythio and North Macedonia via Idomeni. The pandemic shut down what was already a dwindling service and international lines to Sofia, Skopje and Bucharest remain closed. Athens has the most underwhelming main station of any country in Europe – which sort of sums things up.

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How Neo-Prohibitionists Came to Shape Alcohol Policy

IN JANUARY 2023, the World Health Organization (WHO) dropped a bombshell-they announced there was “no safe level”of alcohol consumption.

For the past five years, the WHO has been treating light alcohol consumption as a grave public health emergency. It seems a surprising priority for the world’s premier health organization-until a closer read of their policy documents reveals who they are working with: Temperance groups, which have now found a way to introduce abstinence policies into the global health arena.

How an EU Conflict Opened the Abstinence Door 

In 2015, more than 20 public health organizations resignedfrom the EU’s Alcohol and Health Forum.

This committee was the place where legislators, alcohol representatives, and public health experts thrashed out how to reduce alcohol-related harms in the EU, which were significant:more than 120,000 premature deaths, and more than €125 billion ($135.4 billion) in crime, health, and social costs.

But the health organizations grew disgustedat the EU’s failure to develop an alcohol policy, seeing the Forum as fatally compromised by the alcohol industry.

“The forum has proved worse than useless, a free PR front for the industry,” Nina Renshaw, then secretary general of the European Public Health Alliance said at the time.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Forum’s science group, was equally scathing, saying that the Commission had prioritized “alcohol industry interests over public health.”

The collapse of the Forum left a gaping hole in European alcohol policy. According to Ignacio Sanchez Recarte, that was when the WHO arrived, “with what I call that Trojan horse-they said alcohol is dangerous because it causes cancer.”

Sanchez Recarte is the director general of the Comite Europeen des Entreprises Vins(CEEV), the voice of Europe’s wine producers. Based in Brussels, “we try to defend the interests of European wine companies and wine traders on all the topics that may affect them,” he explained. “One of the working groups that is getting more and more important in the last year is the one trying to follow all the attacks.”

Those attacks are becoming relentless.

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US sues Apple, alleging iPhone monopoly

The Department of Justice and 16 state and district attorneys general on Thursday sued Apple, accusing the tech giant of breaking federal antitrust law by creating an ecosystem that doesn’t allow other companies to compete with the iPhone, smothering innovation in the smartphone market. 

“Apple has consolidated its monopoly power not by making its own products better, but by making other products worse,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a press conference Thursday. “Consumers should not have to pay higher prices because companies break the law.”

The complaint alleged the company maintains a smartphone monopoly by preventing others from building applications that compete with Apple’s staples, like the digital wallet. The tech giant also makes other companies’ technology more difficult to pair with Apple products, as exemplified by the green bubbles that the iPhone shows when texting an Android user.

Garland said Apple was willing to “make the iPhone less secure and less private in order to maintain its monopoly power.”

Responding to the lawsuit, Apple said it threatens “the principles that set Apple products apart in fiercely competitive markets” and it would “set a dangerous precedent, empowering government to take a heavy hand in designing people’s technology.”

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KJ’s vape specialty store idea will disadvantage rural consumers, says NGO

PETALING JAYA: The Consumer Choice Centre (CCC) has shot down former health minister Khairy Jamaluddin’s suggestion for the government to restrict sales of vape and e-cigarettes to specialty stores.

Its Malaysian associate, Tarmizi Anuwar, said this would put those in rural or semi-urban areas at a disadvantage when it comes to accessibility.

PETALING JAYA: The Consumer Choice Centre (CCC) has shot down former health minister Khairy Jamaluddin’s suggestion for the government to restrict sales of vape and e-cigarettes to specialty stores.

Its Malaysian associate, Tarmizi Anuwar, said this would put those in rural or semi-urban areas at a disadvantage when it comes to accessibility.

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Biden Backs TikTok Ban, but Still Uses It to Campaign

President Joe Biden wants voters to know he supports a bipartisan bill that would ban TikTok if Bytedance, the Chinese company that owns the app, doesn’t sell to a U.S. owner.

In fact, Biden might even tell voters that — using TikTok.

For years, critics have warned TikTok is an unusually aggressive app when it comes to accessing user data. Because the company is based in China, all that information is theoretically accessible by the Chinese Communist Party. As tensions between Washington and Beijing grew, legislation was proposed to protect American consumers from the potential risks.

But that didn’t stop the Biden campaign from joining TikTok in February, part of its attempt to energize younger voters.

It was a different story last summer when campaign officials suggested joining TikTok was off the table because of national security concerns.

But now, the bidenhq TikTok regularly includes clips from Biden speeches, images of likely Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, and short videos calling a sunglasses-wearing Biden ‘Dark Brandon.’ Both the president and Vice President Kamala Harris have delivered campaign-style videos to users promoting their reelection campaign.

One enthusiastic fan of the Biden campaign TikTok account: The Chinese Communist Party.

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Consumer Group Says No to PMTA Registries

U.S. states must recognize the unintended consequences of passing laws requiring premarket tobacco product application (PMTA) registries for alternative nicotine products such as vaping devices, heaters, and nicotine pouches, according to the Consumer Choice Center, an organization claiming to represent consumers in more than 100 countries.

In the first months of 2024, more than a dozen bills have been introduced in U.S. states calling for a state-based registry for alternative nicotine products. Such legislation has already been passed in Oklahoma, Louisiana and Alabama.

“While the intention behind these bills is to manage consumer access to unregulated nicotine products on the illicit market, the reality is that the FDA is not approving enough new devices and products to create a competitive, regulated marketplace that meets consumer demand,” said Elizabeth Hicks, U.S. affairs analyst at the Consumer Choice Center.

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Experts Agree: ByteDance is Beholden to the CCP and Cannot Be Allowed to Exploit Americans’ Data

H.R. 7521, the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, is bipartisan legislation that will protect Americans by preventing foreign adversaries, such as China, from targeting, surveilling, and manipulating the American people through online applications like TikTok.  

Here’s what experts and top voices are saying about the bill: 

Speaker of the House of Representatives Mike Johnson:

“I support the bill being marked up by the Energy & Commerce committee. It’s an important bipartisan measure to take on China, our largest geopolitical foe, which is actively undermining our economy and security.”

Americans for Prosperity Chief Government Affairs Officer Brent Gardner: 

“The fact is that we live in a world where Americans’ phones are being weaponized against them by a foreign adversary, and we cannot sit back and let that happen. We would never want the U.S. federal government to have the power to censor, surveil, and manipulate Americans—we absolutely should not permit that abuse of power by the Chinese government through TikTok.” 

Deputy Director of the Consumer Choice Center Yaël Ossowski:

“Considering the CCP’s unique hold on TikTok and ByteDance, and the data privacy threats to US consumers, a forced divestiture is a balanced and reasonable solution.” 

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Vape tax a ‘deeply cynical cash grab’: think tank

The proposal to tax vape liquid is a ‘deeply cynical cash grab’ from the chancellor, a think tank has said.

In his budget speech on Wednesday, chancellor Jeremy Hunt has confirmed the introduction of an excise dutyon liquids used in vaping products from October 2026.

“Forget sin taxes, this is a saint tax. Vapers did what the government wanted and gave up smoking. They are now being punished for it,” Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the free market think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs, said.

Terming the proposal ‘scientifically and economically illiterate’, Snowdon said the government seems to be intent on keeping people smoking, combined with the ban on disposable vapes.

“Not only will the tax close the price gap between vapes and cigarettes, it will send a message to the public that the health risks are similar. Since most people in Britain already wrongly believe that vaping is at least as dangerous as smoking, the government’s reckless greed will cost lives. As a former health minister, Mr Hunt should be ashamed,” Snowdon said.

Responding to the budget speech, the Consumer Choice Center (CCC) said the “unjustified” introduction of a vape tax and increasing tobacco levy will harm consumers by raising prices.

“The vape tax will not raise a substantial amount for the Treasury and will hurt many smokers who are trying to quit, as well as creating a divide between rich and poor smokers,” Mike Salem, the UK country associate at the CCC, said.

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Because employment-based visas go unused, health care facilities continue to have worker shortages

Immigration is an issue that generates a variety of strong opinions. But what shouldn’t be controversial or subject to a lot of disagreement is an immigration-related issue involving a shortage of skilled health care workers in the U.S.

There’s no question that the U.S. could benefit from more health care workers. The next generation of students who will graduate with health care-related degrees and enter the workforce will help the situation, but that’s more of a long-term solution.

A more short-term possibility is to tap into the global pool of skilled workers from other countries.

The crux of the issue lies in the caps and quotas imposed on employment-based visas for international skilled workers. These visa quotas have seen minimal adjustments to accommodate the modern economy, which has more than tripled in size since the quotas were created in 1990.

But even if one believes the annual visa cap remains adequate at 140,000 per year, bureaucratic hurdles exacerbate the labor deficit.

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